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May 02, 2006



Sounds similar to what MS Messenger had going with the ability to invite friends to play an MS game online with each other. If both PC's had the client installed, Messenger would launch the game on both PC's and join them in multiplayer.


What we need is next logical step - avatars that are "game-neutral" - described in open-source syntax - that can move freely between the game worlds...


Alex: What we need is next logical step - avatars that are "game-neutral" - described in open-source syntax - that can move freely between the game worlds...

This doesn't make sense though. It would break all kinds of magic circles if a space commando appeared in World of Warcraft. I can see the idea of having a neutral snow crash-inspired commons that links to all different virtual worlds, but once in a specific world all avatars should conform to that specific world.


They need to support a lot more games before they become a definitive rating system. With $102M from Viacom, I can see that happening in the near future.


This doesn't make sense though. It would break all kinds of magic circles if a space commando appeared in World of Warcraft.

Not necessarily, - one could make outfits and other game-specific designs/features be function of the game environment... I am thinking cross-game progress and identity saves - makes sense, anybody?


I think it defeats the purpose of many MMOGs if you have a level 60 in WoW (or indeed "Bob's World O' Fun") and have therefore "won" every other game out there.

It doesn't make any sense for someone to give out CGtalk awards because for being rich rather than good at art, or only let billionaires be members of the Terranova...

It seems to me that this concept is stuck in the idea that avatar "skill" is the only yardstick for success. I recently read an online forum for a gaming clan that was talking about an alliance leader in Eve - a comment that struck me went something like this:
"Even if X had no skills (on his character), he would still be one of the most powerful people in Eve."

So no, I can't say it makes much sense to me.


Sure one can (should?) use other criteria than skill level - maybe you could have alternative rating systems - like maybe popularity outside the games , - expanding on social networking dimentions of gameplay?

Besides, skill points have to be benchmarked across the games then - "skill exchanges/converters"? ;)


Alex: This doesn't make sense though. It would break all kinds of magic circles if a space commando appeared in World of Warcraft.

Not necessarily, - one could make outfits and other game-specific designs/features be function of the game environment... I am thinking cross-game progress and identity saves - makes sense, anybody?

A whole lot of effort for very little, if any, benefit, in my opinion.

1) It assumes pyhsical appearance isn't tied to game mechanics, whereas in most games the outfit IS specifically associated with game mechanics... so it wouldn't be transferrable.

(Unless you're suggesting that I allow the +5 STR plate armor from the fantasy dwarf translate to the +5 STA space armor in my world.

God. Imagine the balance issues. Imagine what happens when the powerlevelers discover that it's easier to beat the boss in X game, then transfer over to my game, rather than defeat the much more difficult quest that I made for that reward...)

2) It assumes that there's a parallel for customization in non-gear items, like facial structure. Different games have different art styles that will facilitate different customization options. One might allow the spacing or tilt of the eyes (SWG) while others just allow for the tilt (EQ2) while another might not allow for anything but a morphed head shape (CoH).

A common matrix would constrain the artist. If I were making an anime-styled cell-shaded game, I'd opt for alternative character differentiators that would look ridiculous in a more 'realistic' rendered world.

3) It assumes that the artist's interpreted values will match my own. Look at the "EQ2 Soga model" as an example of the issues. They made different art sets for the SAME GAME for a different market, then made them available as an option on the real servers. You decide which model YOU want to see, not what you want to be seen as. The problem is, while the female "braid" in EQ2-original was a nice style, I hated the "braid" setting in SOGA... so now I had to manage my appearance differently, so the SOGA-enabled would see me as I wanted to be seen...

Heck, even something as simple as nose shape- on EQ2-basic, my dwarf nose appeared normal, but the same setting was nearly BROKEN in the other...

Not a single character had settings that carried over between the two art sets- and that was for the same game! Now, imagine the differences across genres... and art styles... and the developers' planned scope of customization...

Maybe "big nose" in one system's customization would barely register as "moderately large" in another...

4) We're assuming that people will choose the same character across genres and will never be inspired to create a new character to fit a different story to develop. Now, I concede that in many of my MMO's, there's a middle-aged guy (or dwarf) with brown-red beard, and longish hair, but he's never my main, and I have dozens of characters that resulted entirely FROM my exploration of the specific game's art sets.

5) THE LOGISTICS: We have a meager (at best) market demand, a framework that's expressive and not conducive to standardization, an industry that's more cutthroat than cooperative, and the promise of a system that places constraints on their development. Sure... let's get everyone together and just whip up an industry standard that we'll all abide by... Anyone here want to take charge of THAT working group?

6) An example: My red-beareded dwarf profile is exported to your space-fantasy game. You have humans and you have a short, hardy, hairless, green-skinned Martian race that's game-wise very similar to dwarves. Would you make me a human, where my appearance characteristics *may* be more consistent, or a martian, with none of the characteristics that I my find character-defining... or are you suggesting that I, as a developer, lose the ability to define such racial characteristics, and I should just allow a dwarf in a spacesuit in my world?

For that matter, in the old game, my dwarf's beard was more of a VanDyke... you don't have that art asset in humans, anyway. You have a full beard and a soul patch... which do you default to? Or... must we all agree to offer the same library of customization options?

7) After all that, we're never going to get better than a "close approximation" of what the player wants. We will likely have to start with these settings in character customization mode, so the player can tweak these settings a little further. How much time savings have we given him? How likely will he (or she) end up checking out all the other possible art sets and find something very different from his or her baseline... and if that's common... why the heck did we develop the whole migration tool, anyway?


Unless you're suggesting that I allow the +5 STR plate armor from the fantasy dwarf translate to the +5 STA space armor in my world.

Aside from the many other arguments against this sort of idea, there's this one: the idea was patented in 1996, and the patent is currently owned by Trip Hawkins.


This notion of cross-game avatars seems to spring up again every few months, and it has never made much sense to me. It seems to be an outgrowth of the cyber-evangalist notion that an online avatar is something akin to a spiritual representation of one's self, a complete alternate persona one adopts in the virtual universe.

I would say that, for the vast majority of MMO users, it's just a character in a game, as ephemeral and mutable as last summer's fashions. There is no unified cyberverse, there is only a collection of virtual envrionments designed around various definitions of "entertainment."


How stable are the current MMO’s? We know the number of MMO’s is doubling every couple years. Players are willing to hold onto games running old technology because they have developed large social networks, and invested large amounts of time. With the current generation of MMO’s it seems to me the idea of an avatar, which can jump between games is unworkable. Right now our avatars are stuck, I don’t see Blizzard, or Sony allowing avatars to leave their games and jump into newer virtual worlds. They want to keep us we pay them, the longer we stay the more, $$ happy meals they buy. The problem of transferring all the uber gear from one game to another is not insurmountable. You can cash in your winnings and leave the table. Just convert to a medium of exchange that can span all virtual worlds, IGE will help. Moving a social network is another problem, since it exists inside of the game. Most of the people you interact with are identified by their avatars alone. In essence, Blizzard or Sony owns your social network, that’s how they hold onto you. What if there was somewhere you could register your avatar? If there were something similar to Xfire that could kept track of each and every one of a player’s avatars? For example I play FFXI, WoW, and EVE so I have three registered avatars. Anyone who views one of my profiles can see all the avatars linked to me, and find me in FFXI, WoW, and Eve. Now the tricky part, when I add a contact or guild member in any of these games the software updates my contacts in the registry. I know there are still a lot of issues here: trust, who owns your contact list (EULA), making this software work, but this is something that might work as a solution to the social networking dilemma.


"Unless you're suggesting that I allow the +5 STR plate armor from the fantasy dwarf translate to the +5 STA space armor in my world.......Anyone here want to take charge of THAT working group? ~Chas"

Please forgive my presumption in posting here, as I don’t know what requirements for use this board has, and please also forgive my presumption in addressing Chas, as I haven’t researched by what leaps and bounds his/her credentials outstrip my own, but I believe you might be dramatically over engineering the solution.

If the idea we're trying to evolve is an inter-game space, a next-generation of an Xfire front-lobby, then we don't need to port in much of the functionality of the games themselves. As long as there are no MOBs and no PVP, stats on armor for example are meaningless. For the people for whom "Sacred Breastplate of Glimmersheen" is an achievement worthy of showing off in a social environment, the people they wish to impress will be able to tell what the breastplate is without being able to inspect it and see that it has +255 to Armor. The appearance and at the most, the name are sufficient representation of the game item. We also don’t have to worry about what happens when an Eve-style space ship tries to shoot a WoW-style Warlock, nor put a Space Marine into an Elven forest.

Instead of avatars having free reign to cross from one game to another, I see a new, separate space very similar to an American shopping mall: an interior space with wide hallways and many small shops on either side. Each of those 'stores' would be a space designed to the specifications of a gaming product or company. Sony for example, would probably occupy an 'anchor store' position, where Americans are used to finding a Sears or Target in their terrestrial mall. Within each company/game's space there would be one primary functional object- a door or 'portal' to and from that company's game. Sony again for example, would have several ‘portals’ within their larger storefront.

Customers who 'log in' directly to this front lobby would come in wearing a fairly generic avatar. Customers who use one of the various game's portals to return to this mall would return wearing their avatar from the game that they left. Again, stats of weapons and armor are meaningless; we only have to render the skins to provide the effects. Dressed in the avatar of their choice, the customers of this shopping mall could use it to meet up with friends prior to an excursion into a synthetic world, celebrate a victory in a synthetic world, go shopping, possibly try out demo versions of other game products in other 'storefronts' they might not have run across yet, and do any virtual counterpart to what people do in terrestrial shopping areas.

The technical and diplomatic difficulties of this solution are significant but not as high as Chas fears, I believe. First, the company running the 'mall' would need have access to the Avatar models for any game that wishes to have their Avatars rendered. That translates into a fairly large Global Objects file on the client machine. The 'mall' would also have to be optimized in anticipation of large numbers of concurrent users at unpredictable 'peak' times, so by necessity the textures and level of detail in the main large hallways should be low. Neither of these are insurmountable I believe, as the function of the space is completely social. The emphasis is on the customers and what they do/say with each other, not on the geography. The diplomatic difficulties are likely to be easier than Chas believes as well, as no game company is yielding any sovereignty over their game products by constraining their own game in any way; they are merely making some of their art assets available outside their game. As most of those art assets are stored on client machines in their games, the physical security of those assets is already pretty low, only the intellectual security remains anyway, and I believe that companies could be convinced to sell those by way of an appropriate business model.

This 'mall' doesn’t even have to be run by a company that has a gaming product. Taking a few cues from terrestrial malls, gaming companies could be charged a recurring fee for use of a store front within the 'mall'. Since bandwidth is at a premium, charge them on the basis of the polygon count of all the advertising paraphernalia present in their storefront. Charge them also for each use of the ‘portal’ to or from their game world. Charge them for the level of detail they wish to render their game’s Avatars in. No company would want their game to look poorly in such a social space, or to have an empty storefront, so there should exist price points where revenues from gaming companies would pay for the graphic and voice servers on which the mall would need to run. In exchange for these fees and making their Player Character avatar assets available to the host company, the gaming companies are getting a whole new storefront to market directly to their entire demographic. Instead of having to ‘shotgun’ advertisements in dozens of magazines with look-alike names, and pay large amounts of money for television adverts that nobody watches anymore anyway, game companies can market their products directly to the people who might actually be curious what they have for sale in the first place.

The ability for customers of various game companies to meet each other is the essential functionality of the Xfire product. In my mind, evolving that product forward doesn’t mean that the various games need to be playable within the new space. The social aspects are the key, as I see it, and marketing aspects can come along for the ride, as long as they don’t get too onerous. For whatever my opinion is worth, there it is. I appologize for taking so much space and if I have raised ideas which have already been discussed.


So ... you're saying the future of socialising is hanging out in the mall, clothed in useless trappings and bombarded with adverts?


To Peter Clay:

Thank you for the time you spent reading and in asking your question. In some ways yes, in most ways no, that's not what I intended to communicate.

The 'mall' device was an attempt to communicate the function of the space, not necessarily the appearance. If you'd prefer to conceptually think of the space as a park or university campus, with lots of green space and buildings on the campus used to hold the tenant company's storefront, please do. A large social space, of whatever appearance and configuration you like, where you can choose to move away from that social space into a corporate-designed space to transition into a game run by another company. That separation is important.

I used the mall device for this separation because I find mall/marketplace advertising less annoying than television or magazine advertising in that when I'm out in a shopping area, the content I intend to consume is 'which of these products do I want to invest my resources'. If I'm at the marketplace already, they don’t have to bombard me with 'Buy! Buy! Buy!' slogans, they just have to present their wares and I decide what fits me best. If I were running the hypothetical company that operated the 'mall', storefronts would have very little on them but the name of the company. Inside the store is where the company would get to put their adverts, so that they are insulated, but accessible upon choice from the outside social spaces. If the inside of a store is too annoying with the style of their advertisement, I can leave and return to the social space, and I know not to give business to the annoying company.

I thought the 'mall'/marketplace was a reasonable device to start from, as marketplaces tend to be the social gathering places within today's synthetic worlds, and also social spaces within the terrestrial world. Incidentally, not all of the 'stores' in the 'mall' would have to be game companies. Some could be smaller, more private social spaces like a pub, a restaurant, or a library where one could read web pages or blogs.

On the 'useless trappings' portion of your response- yes, I think very little is lost by stripping the game functionality from gear items. They’re not useless since at the minimum, you’re telling the rest of the population which game you represent that you come from. Other people who play your game would know how hard it is to get the item in question, so the status of having it is maintained. For people outside your game, the stats on the gear don’t mean much outside of the context of the combat engine of the game they came from. To make the trappings functional, one would have to import into the social world some standardized approximation of all those combat engines, and if someone were to attempt that, then I would agree with Chas and say the effort is fraught with tremendous difficulty in the name of achieving a relatively low level of value added.


Michael -

Thanks for the great comments, it made a lot of good sence and stired a lot of thoughts up. How would you contrast your proposed ideas to the current implementation of the Xbox Live Player Space and Market Place. Where people are able to get and show off thier achievements, have a cross game avatar, etc. Perhaps if we pushed 1 step farther from what Microsoft has done with thier LIVE interface and move towards a more interactive environment, with Lobby's (Malls?) and so forth.




The largest single difference I see is that as far as I know, Xbox customers are the only ones who have access to Xbox Live player space, so the only networking your customers are getting is with other of your customers. The best marketing in the gaming industry that I know of (and I am currently a player and student, not yet a developer) is word of mouth from other gamers. People in your Player Space are already your customers, and you to some extent already have their eyeballs.

Some people who are walking through this mall might primarily be Sony's or Nintendo's customers as well and their customers would get to talk to your customers and on the strength of your customers' satisfaction with your games, you might get new customers. I think gamers are only as brand loyal as they are risk averse. If they get to talk to people who enjoy someone else's game and get human insight that suggests they'll enjoy that game, they'll probably buy that game also. The synthetic mall just eases the communication barriers of geography and platform.


Michael :
For the most part you are correct, however, when I look up a player that I played with recently, I can see what games he has and (in the rare case) purchase then download them and offer to play with him.
I think this is a veyr interesting concept.


This is pretty much in line with what I've been thinking while planting this idea... - interesting discussion. I guess many players would be OK with moderate variation of avatars across games - and even if it'd be substantial - so what? - I am sure such challenge would attract many developers out there... Besides, corporations would probably be interested in co-location of game spaces for co-branging and various possible synergies... Also, socialising across games would trigger player interest to try games "on the other side"...

BTW - 10 yrs ago few people seen electronic document editing outside MS Word... 3D interfaces r still new-born - & no decent hardware integration... not quite yet, - but its just round the corner - too much money to be made here...


OK, I'll try to expand on why I'm skeptical of the virtual space-between-the-spaces idea.

I don't think people will come to virtual spaces just to socialise when there are more efficient preexisting mechanisms for just socialising (IRC, or its proprietary clone IM, blogs etc). Most human social institutions are for some purpose with the socialising as a "secondary" effect. It may well be that the "primary" purpose is just a pretext, but if it isn't there then somehow it doesn't happen. People go to clubs to dance and malls to shop. Somehow it's valuable to have the option of pretending you're there for some other reason, and it gives default topics of conversation, arenas for social competition etc.

Secondly, I'm skeptical of the "virtual space full of doors which open onto the things that you actually wanted to do in the first place" idea, because it seems to have come up so often and with so little success. People don't go to virtual art galleries, they visit art gallery webpages. I can't see the advantage to the user of being in your virtual mall. I smell a billing model in search of a product - very web 1.0, that. You're underestimating your target market's resistance to naked commercialism.

Arguably the web is the closest thing to your mall/virtual library etc vision. It's very efficient at the primary task, but not so much on the socialising. "Chat with the other people using this webpage" is an interesting feature, currently implemented in slow-motion via comments boxes like this one, but then you run into the question of who maintains the infrastructure for kicking out jerks and spammers.

If the idea is viable, I'd expect it to start in somewhere like Second Life which already has an audience and sufficient tools for much of this stuff to be built (imitations of other game avatars, virtual storefronts, some programmability). Back-integrate it with Xfire's presence notification so that having WoW running puts your avatar in the WoW space, and you're done.

However, be prepared for virtual anti-globalisation protesters against the idea that all virtual spaces should merge into one homogenous one with Nike adverts in...


I can see a use for the virtual-space-with-doors-opening-onto-stuff-you-wanted-to-do ... matchmaking. You sort of see it already. If the virtual space let you meet up with others who had the same options open to them (the same set of virtual doors to fun) and the fun was of the sort that was more fun in groups -- you could find your group and go play.

It would take some real effort to make a good UI for the matching-up.



You should really pick up a copy of Tad Williams' "Otherland" Series. I suspect you might enjoy it.

The protagonists, in a sort of future online space, are usually the same, but the worlds they pass through are ever changing.

But to the actual subject of the above article: what sort of horrible things is xfire doing that is making them such a desirable acquisition, and why haven't content providers themselves chased those dollars?


You know what I really wanna see? Cross-platform Xfire. PC, PS3, PSP, XBox360, Wii, DS, all on one Xfire account.


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I suspect companies like Xfire/Xboxlive are merely (lol) the gamer equivalent of the platform agnostic (well not really) intergrated communications interface services offered (or planned for at least) by many ITT companies. Effectively just a stable, commercial IM client with softphone/calender/address book/email - in other words an intergrated social communication tool. Which should be popular given the huge amount of games that can't/won't offer out of game services

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